PHOENIX — Safe!
San Diego Padres closer Heath Bell(notes) made one of the most unusual entrances in baseball history during Tuesday night's All-Star game, sliding just short of the Chase Field mound after running a dead sprint from the left field bullpen. The move came as a surprise to almost everyone in attendance, including the Fox cameraman who was assigned to keep up with the 240-pound pitcher — a task at which he ultimately failed.
Bell's arrival was "well executed" said San Francisco Giants closer Brian Wilson(notes), but it almost didn't come to pass during the eighth inning of the National League's 5-1 victory. Although the imaginative Bell had told friends and teammates he was planning on adding the last wrinkle to his usual running start, he started to have second thoughts after NL manager Bruce Bochy gave an impassioned pregame speech about the game counting for homefield advantage in the World Series.
"But then we were up by four runs," Bell said with a smile in the postgame clubhouse. "And I saw (Pablo) Sandoval and said, 'OK, better get out of the way."
Judging from the picture above, Sandoval enjoyed the show. Chicago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro(notes) — perhaps thinking of a way to commit a trademark throwing error in the Midsummer Classic, something he did the very next inning — seems somewhat less enthused.
If you're wondering if San Diego manager Bud Black and the rest of the Padres' brass were sitting at home with terrified looks on their faces, Bell said that probably wasn't the case.
"I think San Diego is used to me doing a lot of fun stuff," Bell said. "Honestly, I practice sliding a lot. Behind the scenes, so no one can see me. I feel like I'm an athlete even though I'm a pitcher. Even though I'm a big guy, I can play."
Bell can play, indeed. This is his third straight All-Star appearance and he's boasting a 2.43 ERA with 26 saves at the break. On Tuesday, he induced a inning-ending popup from Jhonny Peralta, the only batter he faced on the night.
Despite that impact on the game, Bell probably made a bigger impression on the baseball-watching public. Not only with his unorthodox slide, but with a great interaction he had with two young fans down the left field line. When the two children asked him for his autograph, Bell responded it was against the rules for him to sign during the game.
But what he could do was give the fans his Yoda backpack. Inside were autographed baseballs and Bell followed up by handing out some pre-signed baseball cards.
"Fans are what it's all about," Bell said. "I know we had a big discussion about guys not wanting to show up and fans getting upset and this and that. So I really wanted to do something to give back to the fans."
Bell said he gave away "Yoda 2" and not the "San Diego Yoda" so Padres fans can rest easy about him losing his lucky charm. He'll also be bringing home a pretty cool souvenir — his grass-stained uniform, which he was only too eager to show off for a Big League Stew cameraman.
"I can say "Hey mom, look, I played!" Bell said as he posed in a mock slide. "I'm definitely not washing the uni. This is like the first dirty uni I have from sliding."
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